Like many of my friends of the writerly persuasion, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I love how it connects me with larger conversations. I love making friends with people across the nation and around the world. I love that in these spaces, Story and Word are a kind of currency – we trade; we share; we gather; we fill our coffers and our storage rooms, we are stuffed to the rafters with Stories and Notions and Ideas. We marvel at one another’s lexicographic invention and acrobatic turns of phrase. Social media has enlarged my world, deepened my connections, lit fires to my passions and informed my moral compass. It is through social media that I have not only been able to contextualize the issues of the world around me, but I have been able to empathize as well with the very human stories that both hold up and are crushed under these massive, cumbersome, and very necessary movements of intellectual, political and social change.
I hate social media too. Not all the time. But sometimes? I hate it. Social media, by its very nature, is a disruptive tool. Each voice disrupts the voice that precedes it. Each idea disrupts the ideas that came before. It is fast; it is distracting; it is enraging; it often ruins my day. It has a tendency – for me, anyway – to enlarge my own sense of importance and power. This is problematic. I would feel the need to retweet a thing about Feguson, for example, or the astonishing misogyny of men’s rights movement, or a call to action regarding the appalling conditions of the refugees in the countries bordering Syria, or the wrenching letter written by the parents who lost all three of their children on MH17. I do this because I feel I must do something. Because the way in which we engage in social media sets our brain up for panic-mode. Quick! our brains shout. Respond! Take a stand! Protect! Retreat! Attack! Do something right now! Now, this can be used as an incredible tool for good. We’ve all seen how social media – twitter, especially – can be used as an incredible grassroots organizing tool. By allowing voices to collect, connect and amplify, it shines a thousand small light on particular issues – be they police brutality or systemic (and blind) racism in publishing or stuffy grownups saying silly things about children’s publishing. The voices on these subjects, swelling into a chorus, do an amazing job making the case for things that must be changed – but more importantly, that can be changed. And that’s a powerful thing to be a part of. But it disrupts, as well. It disrupts my work. And my work is important, too.
I have two jobs: I am a stay-at-home parent, and I write stories. Both of those jobs require a level of sustained focus that is incompatible with full-time engagement in the wider world. Both of these jobs require an open heart. Both of these jobs require arms and eyes and a ready smile. Both of these jobs require the full muscle of my empathy, intuition, apprehension, planning, tenderness and love.
Which is why I have shut down the social media accounts. (Except this blog, of course. The blog is different. It is slow. I like slow.)
I’m working on a new book right now. First draft. It is the first time that I fully intend to send a draft to an editor, still warm from the touch of my hands – unfiltered, unrefined, un-erased. Raw materials. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but I’m doing it anyway. And, as a way of making sure it gets done on time, I have turned the world off, and tuned out. And you know what? It’s been wonderful. Wonderful. The weights of worry typically hanging around my shoulders have been lifted. My day is simpler, ordered, quiet, monastic – tend the children; write the book; make tea; write the book some more; tend the children again. I am a monk, removed for now from the world, and letting the great world spin.
I have to say: I recommend it.
[ETA: Once I published this, I realized that I wrote another blog post with this exact same title a year and a half ago. For the same reason. One of the things about keeping a blog is that one is forced to realize that the things we struggle with and decide about are the same things, every dang time. I had a friend in high school who was a consistent journaller – pages and pages every day. And she’d go back and read her journals, as a way of keeping herself grounded and engaged and true. And she said to me something that has stayed with me all these years: “One thing that keeping a journal has taught me is that life is nothing but a series of ‘Huh?’ and ‘Duh!”. We have periods when we’re totally clueless and confused and periods when we’re completely annoyed at how simple and pathetic it all was, and annoyed at ourselves for not figuring it out sooner.” True words, dear KrisAnne. And still true.]